Juan Garrido Letter

Creator: Juan Garrido

Context: Garrido was one of the first Africans to arrive in early Spanish America. He crossed the Atlantic as a freeman around 1510, and accompanied Hernando Cortes on many of his explorations and conquests across what is now Mexico.

Audience: King

Purpose: He is seeking assistance from the king either in terms of land, money or a political pardon from alleged crimes.

Historical Significance: This letter is one of the earliest known documents written by an African in the Americas. It reveals that Africans in Spanish America acted as guides, soldiers and even businessmen.

I, Juan Garrido, black resident [de color negro vecino] of this city [Mexico], appear before Your Mercy and state that I am in need of making a probanza to the perpetuity of the king [a perpetuad rey], a report on how I served Your Majesty in the conquest and pacification of this New Spain, from the time when the Marqués del Valle [Cortés] entered it; and in his company I was present at all the invasions and conquests and pacifications which were carried out, always with the said Marqués, all of which I did at my own expense without being given either salary or allotment of natives [repartimiento de indios] or anything else. As I am married and a resident of this city, where I have always lived; and also as I went with the Marqués del Valle to discover the islands which are in that part of the southern sea [the Pacific] where there was much hunger and privation; and also as I went to discover and pacify the islands of San Juan de Buriquén de Puerto Rico; and also as I went on the pacification and conquest of the island of Cuba with the adelantado Diego Velázquez; in all these ways for thirty years have I served and continue to serve Your Majesty--for these reasons stated above do I petition Your Mercy. And also because I was the first to have the inspiration to sow maize here in New Spain and to see if it took; I did this and experimented at my own expense

Juan Garrido's Memoir to Charles V of Spain, 1538, Matthew Restall, "Black Conquistadors: Armed Africans in Early Spanish America," in The Americas, vol. 57, no. 2 (October 2000), 171205.